It’s one of the most iconic goodbyes committed to film. As Han Solo is pulled away from Princess Leia’s embrace to be frozen in carbonite and face possible death, she declares her love for him. In his eternally cool and wry style, Solo responds, “I know” — a line that represented everything we knew about his character.
Rumor has it the original line called for Harrison Ford to say, “I love you, too.” Ford and director Irvin Kershner fought for Ford’s version, which was improvised when shooting the film. Audiences were left with an amazing Han Solo moment, and guys around the world learned the value of maintaining control and a little bit of mystery in their own relationships. Essentially, be a tease and you’ll drive her nuts.
This scene takes place in the tremendous climax sequence of “The Empire Strikes Back,” the rare sequel that surpasses the original. The characters in the darker second (or fifth) installment of the “Star Wars” saga develop apart from each other before all of the storylines and all of the drama converge at Cloud City. Here, in increasingly dramatic fashion, the film builds to perhaps the most famous “Say what!” moment in cinematic history. I don’t even have to go there.
With the Oscars over and done, a new year for movies can finally begin. Since last year saw the number of movie tickets sold and DVD sales in steady decline, the major studios are exploring different strategies to boost their revenues. As online movie streaming grows in popularity, the entire industry will keep experimenting and adjusting to the changes. One thing, however, has remained constant. After incurring the great costs of making 20 features a year, studios do not want to end up in the red. Their solution? Putting out sequels to blockbusters. The public already recognizes these films and their characters. But unlike “Empire,” they are often formulaic and uninspired. (Yes, you, “Transformers 2” and “Indy 4.”)
A studio’s annual financial standing and the jobs of its executives typically rest upon one or two franchise films. Although these big-budget movies have the potential to spawn more sequels, countless lines of merchandise, theme park rides and other means of boosting profit, finding an audience and box office success for them is not as easy as it might seem. Just look at the dozen comic book adaptations launched every year and the relative few — like “Batman” and “Iron Man” — that see the light of another day.
If there’s one company that knows all about managing its finances — and animation, too — it’s Walt Disney. Last year, the company had the top two films at the box office: “Toy Story 3” and “Alice and Wonderland.” What is the value of a franchise? According to the Wall Street Journal, both movies made just over $1 billion globally. If you count all the ancillary markets, which include DVD sales, distribution deals and retail, “Toy Story” blows “Alice” out the rabbit hole, generating $8.8 billion to a paltry $600 million. “To infinity and beyond,” indeed.
The numbers make a huge difference in a recovering economy and a changing movie business. They explain why, in 2011, we can expect fourth installments from “Mission: Impossible,” “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Scream” and the “Twilight” saga, and fifth films in “The Fast and the Furious,” “X-Men,” and “Shrek” franchises. And who can forget “Deathly Hallows: Part 2” — numero ocho in a seven-book series? That eensy discrepancy explains everything.
This is what the industry has become. Where are the movies with the “Empire”-type plots and scripts that must struggle to compete against these special effects-laden behemoths? Amid the wizards and spin-offs, the pirates and superheroes, there have been but a few other films that have poked through.
Fox Searchlight, the indie arm of 20th Century Fox, released “Win Win,” starring Paul Giamatti ’89, to rave reviews. Next month, Searchlight will distribute director Terrence Mallick’s next film, “The Tree of Life.” Based on the trailer and poster, it will feature a smorgasbord of breathtaking imagery paired with a story of growth and disillusionment. The independent arms of other major studios, like Focus Features and Sony Classics, have comparable lineups. Despite an industry frozen in the carbonite grip of endless sequels, there is still hope within these oft-overlooked avenues for more flexible films to wake us up.